A sincere and widespread Singapology

A sincere and widespread Singapology


norman lebrecht

December 09, 2014

Singapore Airlines have apologised to the Swiss youth orchestra it maltreated in Hong Kong. That’s nice, and prompt and sensible. They have also replied to individual musicians who wrote to protest after reading of the orchestra’s plight on Slipped Disc. That’s exceptional. They deserve to be forgiven this uncharacteristic lapse. See letter below.

singapore airlines

Dear Mr. [X]

Singapore Airlines is carrying out an internal review of an incident at Hong Kong airport on 6 December in which a group of customers was denied boarding on flight SQ871. The customers were bound for Zurich via Singapore. The customers were carrying musical instruments and requested that they be allowed to be stowed in the cabin, rather than in the baggage hold.

We do regret the incident and sincerely apologise for the inconvenience and anxiety caused to the group. We will be contacting the affected customers directly to follow up with them. The internal review is intended to determine the full circumstances of the incident to assess how it could have been handled better.

The customers were subsequently transferred to another airline with a direct flight to Europe from Hong Kong.

Yours sincerely

Fergal Fitzgerald
Singapore Airlines London



  • The King's Consort says:

    Our experience with the “good” airlines is that when things do go wrong moving orchestras, and they inevitably do, on occasion, despite the very best planning (including booking through travel agents who specialise in moving orchestras, and having vastly experienced tour managers travelling with the orchestra), the good airlines afterwards do try to repair some of the damage to what are profitable customers for the airline.

    So it’s encouraging to hear that Singapore Airlines are trying be one of those “good” airlines. We’ve had the usual bundle of horrors this year, but have had some good responses compensating our musicians for the awful experiences. A major Spanish airline paid compensation to ten of our musicians last month who were bumped off an overbooked flight and as a result had a horrendous travel day to a concert that evening: earlier in the year a major British carrier also paid compensation for service that was well below expected standards and resulted in a dreadful travel day to a concert. Each time, we are very calm and very polite, but we note every detail and the names of everyone concerned: we follow that up with a letter sent direct to a named director of the airline concerned, outlining the quantifiable loss we have suffered, and additionally pointing out how much we spend on travel each year, and how many millions of pounds of business orchestras bring to the airlines.

    Often the problem boils down to inexperienced staff at the check-in, who in more and more airports are not employees of the airline, but are sub-contractors. And more widely, the lack of “corporate residual memory” caused by airlines shedding experienced staff causes those airlines (or rather, their passengers) a lot of trouble.

  • Nick says:

    Agree that SIA’s very prompt response and apology are welcome. I’m sure the publication of the incident in this blog and individual mails sent by readers to SIA helped.

  • mina says:

    I never had any doubts that Singapore Airlines will apologise. It is just unfortunate that the incident was already published even before SQ could do any investigation. This problem occurs to travelling musicians every now and then. Travelling musicians are effectively Ambassadors of their countries or organisations and their actions and words must be responsibly done.
    For now, we can all say that the word ‘Singapology’ positively means humbly facing the issue with the sincerest of apology, exemplary of values of the nation called Singapore and its national carrier, Singapore Airlines. Once again, well done Singapore!

  • bratschegirl says:

    What is more “unfortunate” is that the incident occurred at all. I cannot recall ever hearing of a situation in which an entire orchestra was refused carriage on an airline flight, so I dispute your contention that this happens “every now and then,” and even if you were correct that would not make it less outrageous. SQ would do well to remember that here is no need to allow time for investigations of situations that are handled properly in the first place.

  • Fishman angler says:

    I have read the 3 related postings several times and other related postings in The Strad, Straits Times, Classic Fm etc, the below points seem clear:

    1. The 2 cellos WERE allowed on board as per their extra seats booked. Original postings may have given the impression that the ground staff did not allow the cellos on board despite them having extra seats booked.

    2. The musicians were’transferred’ to Lufthansa, implying that Singapore Airlines made the arrangements. Postings may have given the impression that the musicians re booked and paid for separate airline tickets and extra costs incurred. Singapore Airlines have not mentioned compensation as there may not be extra costs incurred by the musicians, though somewhat implied in the postings.

    3. In the case of helping to transfer airlines, ground staff would naturally need dimensions of violins and violas verified to Lufthansa. Postings implied that by doing so, some SQ staff were trying to ruin the musicians transfer to Lufthansa. If tickets were indeed re booked and paid for by musicians, the situation would have been out of SQ hands and would be Lufthansa problem. Apparently not so.

    If my readings are fair, it may mean that the original postings had some imaginations added and perhaps not such a clear factual account. It can be understandable as I’m sure the situation was stressful.

    Kudos to Mina! The word ‘Singapology’ in its positive meaning may perhaps be added into the New Oxford Dictionary.

    Alexander Gilman personal clarification of my inference above would be most welcomed to clear the air for all readers.

    • Nick says:

      Amongst all the alleged possibilities you mention, the one concrete issue you steer well clear of is why SIA in Hong Kong banned the instruments from their flight in the first place, the more so when they had had problem doing so on the SIN/HKG sector.

      You also fail to mention a point made in The Strad article – the travel agency booking the tour for the ensemble is the same one that books tours for the Vienna Philharmonic. Others have suggested the agency may have been at fault. In this case, that would seem extremely unlikely. Indeed Mr Gilman’s comments against the airlines in The Strad are considerably more outspoken than those here in NL’s blog.

      • Fishman Angler says:

        Dear Nick,

        Indeed, I did not mention that the fact remains that the violins and violas were not allowed into the cabin at HKIA.

        Whether the agent used was the same agent who did bookings for Vienna Philharmonics as well was also difficult to verify.

        I certainly hope that Alexader Gilman can make some verifications soon so that all the speculations may be put to rest.

  • Nick says:

    Judging from two of the replies above, I’d say the Singapore Airlines spin machine has been working overtime. Why would anyone other than SIA and its spin doctors even consider suggesting “(maybe) the original postings had some imaginations added and perhaps not such a clear factual account.”

    This, after all, is the way Singapore Inc. works. Whenever there is anything negative printed in the media about problems related to Singapore, the next thing you know is a letter from the Ambassador or a senior Embassy official pointing out that it is wrong! The Singapore government and its leaders frequently resort to legal action against media criticism.

    The incident at Hong Kong is a clear embarrassment for Singapore’s flag carrier which is facing a number of massive problems due to much greater competition from the likes of the excellent Gulf Airlines. It is hardly a surprise that it should seek to start placing some of the blame on the orchestra.

    • Fishman Angler says:

      Now that’s quite some imagination!

      • Nick says:

        You clearly have little experience of Singapore, the Singapore government and especially its leaders. Look at how many law suits have been taken out against the media, against bloggers, against anyone who criticises the way the state is run. The same party has been in power since Independence and the country has only ever had barely a handful of opposition MPs. Yet, even they get sued!


        I quote just one sentence – “Singapore uses criminal defamation and contempt of court charges to rein in criticism of the government and the ruling People’s Action Party.”

        Don’t get me wrong. I have immense admiration for what Lee Kwan Yu and his successors have achieved in developing what had been little more than a colonial swamp into a first world country. It truly is a beautiful city state with enviable records in education, home ownership, personal income, low crime rates etc. It has a massive Sovereign Wealth Fund controlled by the government with tentacles in many pies, including a 56.4% stake in Singapore Airlines.

        But the ruling party and its leaders will brook no criticism. They maintain an iron grip on power and control over many aspects of the lives of its citizens.